Sources of interpersonal power and barriers to female candidacy for political office

Sara Beth Kimmel

Abstract

Studies of women and development indicate that women's economic status improves as more women hold elected office, thus improving overall economic development through the influence of policies that ensure equal rights and access to services. A U.S. comparison shows that women are vastly underrepresented in some states. Despite the existence of a legal environment that touts equity, women remain reluctant participants in candidacy for public office. Mississippi ranks among the top ten states in women's voter registration, but in the lower 15 in voter turnout, and near the bottom for women in elected office. Complacency, while an argument, does not appear to be a primary force influencing the lack of female participation in candidacy. The application of gender schema theory and the theory of interpersonal power supports the hypothesis that females face different barriers than males in the quest for elected office. In addition, females exhibit greater reliance than males on family member support for candidacy. Findings reveal significant differences between the sexes in their use of interpersonal power. The researcher studied females and a matched group of males in local, county, and state elected offices in Mississippi during 2001. Discriminant analysis provided a highly predictive model of candidacy, stemming from four significant items, including the perception of gender discrimination in elected office.